Oysters Return to Pantal River in Dagupan City

Dagupan City Agriculturist Emma Molina and Zac B.
Sarian with a basin full of oysters from Pantal River.
Fleshy oyster grown in Pantal River using the floating raft
system advocated by City Agriculturist Emma Molina’
This is the floating bamboo raft used for raising oysters.
For many years in the past, oysters used to be an important source of income for fisherfolk in Dagupan City’s seven rivers, especially the Pantal river. But the good oyster years were overtaken by fish cages that eventually clogged the free flow of water resulting in polluted and silted river beds.
According to city administrator Vladimir Mata and city agriculturist Emma Molina (who is a fisheries expert), the rivers were filled with fish cages that numbered no less than 1,600 which were a goldmine for the fish farmers and their financiers. But they wrought havoc to the environment.
The oyster farms in Pantal river were totally displaced in 1987 by the fish cages where fingerlings of bangus and other species were cultured for a period of three months. Although the cost of putting up and maintaining the cages for a three-month growing cycle needed a capital of P500,000, the returns were very attractive. According to Emma Molina, the profit ranged from 25 to 36 percent. At 25 percent, that’s P125,000 net profit from one cage of 300 square meters in less than 100 days,  and if it is 36 percent, that’s P180,000!
Because of the big return on investment, the river was abused. More fish cages were erected than ccould be maintained for the river’s good health. Because the fish have to be fed with commercial ration, the excess feeds polluted the river. Siltation ensued. According to city administrator Mata, the river used to be six meters deep but by 2008, many portions of the river were only three meters deep.
Something had to be done. The city council passed an ordinance that would demolish the fish cages in the river. Of course, the operators and their financiers did not like the idea because that meant the loss of their profitable income. Many of the fish farmers were financed by 14 big financiers, each financier may be funding at least 30 fish cages. One could just imagine the income from that number of cages considering that the profit margin was from 25 to 36 percent.
So it was not easy for the city authorities to eject the fish cages. But with the political will of the city council, the fish cages were finally demolished in 2010. The next agenda was to dredge the river. The dredging involved a really big amount, at least P6 million, but it was done. The dredged materials were used as landfill  in the low-lying coastal barangays to the joy of the residents there.
The rehabilitated river once again came to life and the endemic species once again thrived. One species that is being revived now is oysters. According to Emma Molina, the city agriculturist who is a fisheries expert, a new system of growing oysters is being introduced in Pantal river. This is the so-called floating raft system.
She explains that in the traditional system of growing oysters, bamboo poles were erected in the river where the spats or baby oysters attached themselves. That’s not good, according to her because the bamboo poles impeded the free flow of water. Under the new system a bamboo raft is used. The raft floats and strips of rubber (the interior of truck tire) are attached under the raft. The spats attach themselves to the rubber strips about two meters long. In about eight months the oysters would be ready for harvesting. What’s good with oysters is that they don’t need commercial feed. Initial trials in growing oysters in floating rafts have been very successful. The cultured oysters are very fleshy.
The fisherfolk will soon be allowed to make their own bamboo rafts for culturing oysters. Also, bangus and other species (samaral, pompano, seabass) and others will be cultured but the area for such projects will be limited to 26 hectares out of the total river area of 649 hectares.
Because of the cleaned up rivers, the small fisherfolk who fish by hook and line are very happy these days. According to Emma Molina, there are no less than 2,000 such small fishers who catch the endemic species like snapper, samaral, lapulapu, a species locally known as Bulasi, and others. The small fishers are happy because now when they go fishing from 10 in the morning up to 3 in the afternoon. In five hours they usually catch 6 to 9 kilos of assorted species at least worth a thousand pesos. Before, there were only about 1,000 fishers who caught fish by hook and line and they used to catch only three kilos in a period of five hours.
Now it is very obvious that if we protect the environment, the good old days would come back to benefit more number of people. And that could only be done if there is the political will to do it.
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